GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY
Today the network of relationships linking the human race to itself and to the rest of the biosphere is so complex that all aspects affect all others to an extraordinary degree. Someone should be studying the whole system, however crudely that has to be done, because no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behavoir of the whole.“
LUDWIG VON BERTALANFFY
“Compared to the analytical procedure of classical science with resolution into component elements and one-way or linear causality as basic category, the investigation of organized wholes of many variables requires new categories of interaction, transaction, organization, teleology…” “These considerations lead to the postulate of a new scientific discipline which we call general system theory. It's subject matter is formulation of principles that are valid for “systems” in general, whatever the nature of the component elements and the relations or “forces” between them… “General system theory, therefore, is a general science of wholeness”… The meaning of the somewhat mystical expression, “The whole is more that the sum of its parts” is simply that constitutive characteristics are not explanable from the characteristics of the isolated parts. ”
The Turning Point
The systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration. Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or basic substances, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization. Every organism- from the smallest bacterium through the wide range or plants and animals to humans is an integrated whole and thus a living system. …But systems are not confined to individual organisms and their parts. The same aspects of wholeness are exhibited by social systems- such as an anthill, a beehive, or a human family- and by ecosystems that consist of a variety of organisms and inanimate matter in mutual interaction. What is preserved in a wilderness area is not individual trees or organisms but a complex web of relationships between them.
All these natural systems are wholes whose specfic structures arise from the interactions and interdependence of their parts. The activity of systems involves a process known as transaction- the simultaneous and mutually interdependent interaction between multiple components.”
In a true system…not all macroscopic properties follow from the properties of components and combinations. Macroscopic properties often do not result from static structures, but from dynamic interactions playing both within the system and between the system and its environment…A human being falling in love – perhaps only once in a lifetime – changes the life of the community of which he or she is a part. Such considerations already hint at the fact that a systemic view of necessity leads to a dynamic perspective. Quite generally, a system becomes observable and definable as a system through its interactions. (The Self-Organizing Universe.“ p24)
“But let me emphasize that to have an approach of wholeness doesn't mean that we are going to be able to capture the whole of existence within our concepts and knowledge. Rather it means first that we understand this totality as an unbroken and seamless whole in which relatively autonomous objects and forms emerge. And secondly it means that in so far as wholeness is comprehended with the aid of the implicate order, the relationship between the various parts or sub wholes are ultimately internal. Wholeness is seen as primary while the parts are secondary, in the sense that what they are and what they do can be understood only in the light of the whole. And perhaps I should also add here that in each sub whole there is a certain quality that does not come from the parts, but helps organize the parts. I could summarize this in the principle: The wholeness of the whole and the parts. Each human being is therefore related to the totality, including nature and the whole of mankind. He is also therefore internally related to other human beings. How close that relationship is, has to be explored. What I am further saying is that the quantum theory implies that ultimately the relationship of the parts and whole of matter in general is understood in a similar way. This approach of wholeness could help to end the far-reaching and pervasive fragmentation that arises out of the mechanistic world view.”
A Starting Place
A top-down systemic strategy, this involves imagining the whole oceanic unity of the universe, as we all vaguely remember experiencing it in the womb, then making a division, say between self and other, then conversationally and experimentally exploring the connections across the boundary between self and other. Then successively by making other analagous distinctions, say between the self and the family and the other, or between the living and the non-living, we can explore the connections across those boundaries using guiding metaphors as heuristics and rigorous logic for detailed self-correcting theory and model building.
The Physiology of Perception
When a person glimpses the face of a famous actor, sniffs a favorite food or hears the voice of a friend, recognition is instant. Within a fraction of a second after the eyes, nose, ears, tongue or skin is stimulated, one knows the object is familiar and whether it is desirable or dangerous. How does such recognition, which psychologists call preattentive perception, happen so accurately and quickly, even when the stimuli are complex and the context in which they arise varies?
Much is known about the way the cerebral cortex, the outer rind of the brain, initially analyzes sensory messages. Yet investigations are only now beginning to suggest how the brain moves beyond the mere extraction of features-how it combines sensory messages with past experience and with expectation to identify both the stimulus and its particular meaning to the individual.
My own group's studies, carried out over more than 30 years at the University of California at Berkeley, suggest that perception cannot be understood solely by examining properties of individual neurons, a microscopic approach that currently dominates neuroscience research. We have found that perception depends on the simultaneous, cooperative activity of millions of neurons spread throughout expanses of the cortex. Such global activity can be identified, measured and explained only if one adopts a macroscopic view alongside the microscopic one.
There is an analogy to this approach in music. To grasp the beauty in a choral piece, it is not enough to listen to the individual singers sequentially. One must hear the performers together, as they modulate their voices and timing in response to one another.
From: February 1991 Scientific American, Vol 264, (2) Pgs. 78-85.
JAN C. SMUTS
Holism and Evolution;
Holism (from the Greek Holos, whole) is the theory, which makes the existence of “wholes” a fundamental feature of the world. It regards natural objects, both animate and inanimate, as “wholes” and not merely as assemblages of elements or parts. (which) looks upon nature as consisting of discrete, concrete bodies and things, and not as a diffusive homogeneous continuum. And these bodies or things are not entirely resolvable into parts; in one degree or another they are wholes which are more than the sum of their parts, and the mechanical putting together of their parts will not produce them or account for their characters and behaviour. The so-called parts are in fact not real but largely abstract analytical distinctions, and do not properly or adequately express what has gone to the making of the thing as a whole.
A Sacred Unity
A system, after all, is any unit containing feedback structure and therefore competent to process information. There are ecological systems, social systems, and the individual organism plus the environment with which it interacts is itself a system in this technical sense. The circumstance that the family as a unit came to be thought of as a system must lead back inevitably, I believe, to considering the individual as a system. It follows that the ways of thinking evolved by psychiatrists in order to understand the family as a system. . . .The polarization of opinion then will not be simply between practitioners of individual therapy and practitioners of family therapy but between those who think in terms of systems and those who think in terms of lineal sequences of cause and effect. . . . The basic rule of system theory is that, if you want to understand some phenomenon or appearance, you must consider that phenomenon within he context of all completed circuits which are relevant to it.